By Jordana Ventzke – Licensed Dietitian
Finding out you are pregnant makes mums research. And boy, do we research everything – what can I eat, drink, should I exercise, how do I want my birth to happen, car seats, prams etc.
Unfortunately, not much research, goes into our own postpartum journey. The focus remains on baby, and we forget about ourselves and to take care of ourselves.
We need to remember the focus should be on mom. Baby is important but if mum is healthy and supported, baby will thrive. We need to be offering new moms support to ensure that they remain well nourished, during this time of sleep deprivation and caring for a newborn.
During pregnancy we make changes to our diet, then baby is born, and all thought about these changes and the importance of eating go out the window.
Postpartum Nutrient Requirements
Postpartum nutrient requirements exceed what they are in pregnancy, but as new mum’s we manage with snacks, sugar and caffeine, and maybe one whole meal for the day.
It’s time to focus on your diet and what you are eating because you need nutrient replenishment (our baby’s take nutrients form us during pregnancy), you need to recover energy lost during birth and tissue repair (particularly if you had a tear/episiotomy or a surgical birth).
Breastfeeding Healthy Diet
And finally, if you are breastfeeding, your body is undergoing the massive task of making milk, which is nutritionally expensive in both energy and nutrient needs. By improving our own diets, we can make breastmilk even more of a power food.
How Can Moms Maintain A Healthy Nutritious Diet
The big question is how do we do this? How do we prioritise ourselves?
We need to look at the traditional approach to postpartum healing and what we can learn from it. In most cultures, the initial postpartum time involves some sort of “sit in” for 40 days (which is exactly around the “magic number” of our 6-weekly check-up in western cultures).
During this time, traditional cultures focus on rest, establishing breastfeeding, replenishing stores by eating specific foods and little physical activity. Basically, don’t try and do it alone, plan before baby arrives and ask for help.
The Traditional Approach To Postpartum Diet
Focusing on food, when we look at traditional cultures, animal products remain the most important food group to include in your diet. Rich bone broths, organ meat, seafood and eggs all contain nutrients that are essential for wound healing and milk production. The foods tend to be “warming”, which can come from temperature but also from herbs and spices.
Do you really need the “bone or lamb broth” your Grandma said its a postpartum must?
During pregnancy and birth, healing tissues have been stretched, torn and possibly cut, so require a lot of protein, glycine and proline to make collagen which will help in this healing process.
Nutrients needed during postpartum
These nutrients are found in the highest concentration in connective tissues, bones and skin of animal products, which is exactly why meals such as soups, broths, stews and curries are encouraged.
We also know that food that has been slow cooked, such as a stews or starchy porridges help your body extract nutrients and calories more readily, compared to eating raw food. This way we aren’t wasting energy trying to digest these more difficult to digest foods and allowing recovery to be the priority.
You may have lost a lot of blood during birth, so replenishing yourself with red meats and organ meats (which have the highest amount of easily absorbed iron and vitamin B12), will help you body recover and recoup from this blood loss.
If you are breastfeeding, it has been estimated that your body needs an additional 500 calories per day, with many new mothers talking of an insatiable appetite. Yet we battle to meet these requirements (by not eating enough) or meet them by eating foods that may have the energy but are completely nutrient empty.
You can’t go through postpartum alone
Practically, we aren’t going to be standing in the kitchen making up these slow cooked meals, but plan head. Ask for help and be specific. Ask friends and family to start a meal train and have meals delivered to your house, instead of having a baby shower, have a cooking party where you and attendees can prepare meals for the freezer.
You don’t have to be perfect, but I truly believe if we start spending a little more time and energy on thinking about our postpartum journey, and offering new moms support, we will certainly start to see a difference in how mums feel in these early weeks in the transition to motherhood.
And if this is the one way I can help a new mom, then let me feed her and feed her well!